On Being Single and Christian
I'm so single, I literally still sleep in a single bed, and to make matters worse it is a princess trundle bed for all the sleepovers that I have (amount: zero). At the age of twenty three, I have not lived at home for five years and I refuse to "upgrade" to an "adult" sized bed. I like my bed okay? It is small and fits me. I don't roll over into a cold abyss, and I have loads of room for other things in my room, like clothes and activities. My sleeping arrangement has been the topic of more than a few jokes amongst my friends but as soon as I get into that compact and cozy linen-utopia I don't really care.
In all seriousness though what is a blog post (or life for that matter) without a little self-deprecation and circumstantial humour? Especially when singleness in our society has become a form of entertainment. You only have to watch movies such as "How to be Single" or "The 40 Year old Virgin" to appreciate (or not) it's place and devaluation in our culture.
At this present time in my life though, singleness is not a joke. To me it means power, authentic vulnerability, discipline, and romance. Romance between my saviour and I - an exclusivity unlike any other. I have found over the years that many misunderstand singleness to only mean more time and less responsibility, and perhaps they are right to some extent. I cannot speak for others, but personally I am not whittling away my time, unhindered, and just waiting for a mate.
My mind and my time is centred on kingdom thoughts and activity which is (I would argue) more than enough for any person. More often than not however, I feel like I am not doing enough, barely reaching my potential, and afraid that I am wasting my time. These feelings, although clearly expose some of my own insecurities, stem from how others perceive my life; that I am unhindered from wifedom and motherhood, and should therefore be pursuing these things - thus experiencing a devaluation of self and continually having to strive for independence to show people that I can be one hundred percent fulfilled on my own.
Conversations about my relationship status often include a wink or a nudgey-nudge as if what I am saying is not really how I think or feel. Often condescending comments fly at me like annoying mosquitoes, buzzing around my head until even I question my own beliefs. The truth is, I am perfectly content. At peace with what life, circumstance, consequence, and God has given me, which is the ability to forge my own path. Create my own destiny. Make my own decisions. This freedom to me is a divine gift and not something to despise, despite the fact that it comes at a cost. The reality is: I don't feel like I am missing something in my life despite the longing in my heart and I do not believe that any future is greater than any present, even if I do meet "the one" eventually - whatever that means.
There is this obscure "spiritual gift" that the church rarely talks about yet it still seems to lie threateningly around. The dreaded "gift" of singleness. A life-long ministry of remaining alone. It has been given this almost god-like status in the church as a concept, but I have personally not yet experienced a church environment where the reality matches the idealism. Family and marriage always seem to be number one. Other people just clearly need to get with the system. Is this "gift" just something to make singles feel better about being single? The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 "I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. To the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion".
As a side note; we know that Paul was single and that Jesus himself was single. Many great and wonderful ministers throughout the ages were single. Relationship status is therefore clearly no determinant of ability or effectiveness in ministry. It should then, have no bearing on an individuals status or role within church life, or any life for that matter. Yet, it often does. Especially for a woman. An unfortunate cultural influence that, much like patriarchy, pervades a sacred space that is at its core not supposed to be shaped by worldly ideas and ideals.
I think then from what Paul says, we misunderstand this gift of singleness. Perhaps it is not a divine ability to have no relational desires whatsoever, but rather the capacity to not spend all your waking moments burning with longing and desire. If that is the case, then I have it, I have the gift of singleness. Who woulda’ thunk it.
I should probably mention at this point that I want to get married. OH, how I want to be married. I remember when I was nine I would draw pictures of my wedding dress (a sweetheart neckline with intricate beading - gross), when I was sixteen and a naive new christian I would write letters to my future husband (also gross), and by the time I was twenty I was genuinely shocked that I wasn't married yet (lol @ me).
Life, as it turns out, doesn't always work out the way we think it will. I decided then, that I would learn how to be alone. A novelty to me, as someone who naturally seeks the comfort and assurance of others. I committed myself to sifting through the loneliness, rejection, and the insecurity that often comes with singleness. I positioned myself to feel it all and more - and eventually embraced the idea that I might be single indefinitely.
I don't know if God will ever give me this desire of my heart (marriage), but what I do know is that at the age of 21 He asked me this question: "Ella, if you never get married, would you still love me?". My heart skipped a beat and I became starkly aware of the age-old physical response of a 'cold sweat', but as my mind processed this shocking suggestion, I was quite quickly filled with overwhelming assurance.
"Yes." was of course my final and unwavering response, and with it came freedom from unfulfilled longing. On that day something inside of me stopped searching for more than God, and I could rest my weary heart. The greatest surprise however, was that marriage, in that moment, went from being a need to being something even greater - a beautiful, wonderful choice.
Why then, do I want to be married? and what has changed for me over the years? I used to truly believe that without a partner I was nothing, that I could only ever be happy within a relationship, and that my role in life was to complete someone else's. I couldn’t hear the lies in my own thinking. The unhealthy relationship of my pre-jesus days had brought fear and insecurity into my ideas about marriage and dependency on others. Like most, I wanted love and companionship above all else, but beyond that I didn't know what on earth marriage was for.
In my first year of bible college I read the book One. Life by theologian and scholar Scot Mcknight, which is about living with a kingdom perspective in every facet of our living, breathing, walking around life. I began to realise that actually, if I were to be married it would have to go entirely beyond "him and I". Our marriage would have to have kingdom purpose or it would not be worth it. I remember when a friend of mine said, "Ella when you get married it's going to be so scary. You guys will be like an epic power couple. It will be a force to be reckoned with." I reacted by quietly laughing, but inside of me something began to glow.
Marriage with purpose. I already knew that if I was to be married that he would unquestionably be a Christian, but this went beyond that. Being "equally yolked" became equal values, equal purpose, and equality in kingdom vision. With this knowledge in my hands and my heart I became at peace with the world around me regarding relationships like never before, knowing that despite my present or my future relationship status, that kingdom was and always will be central. Some may accuse me of being overly idealistic and setting myself up for disappointment, but I am content to wait and find out.
So what is it like being single and Christian? Sometimes hard. Sometimes a thrilling adventure. It is simply living with the tension of any kingdom-centred life, no matter what age and stage. Learning to place our desires second and God's purposes first. Learning to trust and have faith. Trying to find a balance between what I want and what I need and what I can and cannot control. All I can do is remain in the present, grounded in what I am doing right now with the life that I have been given. If I am one day taken out of this state of singleness, I want to be able to look back and know that I gave this time everything that I had, living fully and completely alive. No regrets.
As this post comes to an end some of you may be desperate to know, WHAT ABOUT SEX? Christianity and Singleness is ideally coupled with celibacy of course. A commitment that I made a long time ago. Does it suck? Um, sometimes. Do I want to have sex one day? YES! Is it the be all and end all if I don't? NO. Will it be hard, YES! Will I die without it? NO. It is all about priorities.
“Love is giving up control. It’s surrendering the desire to control the other person. The two—love and controlling power over the other person—are mutually exclusive. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all the desires within us". ― Rob Bell, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality
Mcknight, Scot (2010). One. Life. Jesus Calls We Follow. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan.
Ella is an assistant Pastor and radio presenter. She is passionate about good coffee, early mornings, farmers markets, and creative expression.